The Conspirator Review and Blu-ray Features
15 April 2011
Behind the Scene and other Major Plot Points
American Film Company
The debut film from The American Film Company; their mission is to make historically accurate films about America’s past
Lead Roles chosen by Robert Redford
Robin Wright was initially unavailable to make the film due to personal commitments. But because Robert Redford really wanted her for the female lead, he briefly delayed production.
Robert Redford always had James McAvoy in mind for the part of Frederic Aiken.
Where were the OSCAR Nods
I finally just have seen this film and I got to say ” WHERE WERE THE OSCAR NODS” this film was terrifically done and cast. McCavoy was simply brilliant. The true story which I knew a lot about but not the trial. It was pure revenge that the mother was killed because her son had no back bone to step forward and a innocent woman hanged. This was during a very difficult time in my nations history and I think Lincoln would have wanted the system for the constitution he wrote be upheld no matter what the cause. EXCELLENT FILM and hats off as usual to Redford and company. I’m glad I finally got to see this brilliant film.
Transcripts of the trial
Large portions of the film’s dialogue are taken directly from transcripts of the trial.
How come the courtroom scene was so dark?
Did the room where the tribunal was held really have such low lighting? Or was this Redford’s way of being atmospheric? They did have lamps in those days, yet the courtroom scenes were as dank as the prison cell scenes.
Mary Surratt and Dt Samuel Mudd were held prisoners at the old Capitol prison. The others on iron clad naval vessels. There was a rush to try them as fast as possible by the military. The trial was held on the third floor of the old Arsenal Penitentiary. The courtroom was thrown together quickly. The officer reading the charges to them in their cells had to use a lantern to see what he was reading. The prisoners wore hoods and were chained hand and foot.
Why was Anna Surratt not arrested?
I’m not saying she should have been, but it seems that everyone else associated with the boarding house was arrested. She was certainly old enough to have been involved and/or suspected; she was a year older than her brother John.
She was placed under house arrest, I can only guess that they never found any evidence to implicate her enough to warrant throwing her into jail with the others.
RT/Meta Critic Review
While the film is pretty heavy-handed in framing the story in political terms, it is a compelling historical drama that will be news to many Americans. (click here to see)
The Conspirator conveys the heaviness of its story and its setting — a torn nation desperate to heal the lingering wounds on both sides after the close of the Civil War (Click here to see)
This provocative account of a war-weary administration that denied Surratt her right to a fair trial starts slow but builds momentum in the scenes with Wright and Evan Rachel Wood as Surratt’s flinty daughter, Anna.(Click here to see)
The Conspirator arrives on Blu-ray with a VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1, putting the lie to those who insist that VC-1 is only being used for old ports from HD-DVD. Redford and DP Sigel have intentionally shot this film in low light, desaturating the image quite a bit of the time so that it resembles sepia toned daguerreotypes, as mentioned in the main body of the review. They also consistently boost contrast in scenes where effulgent light streams through windows, which tends to make whites bloom and to give a somewhat soft and fuzzy demeanor, definitely on purpose. This gives the film an almost dreamlike quality at times, and the Blu-ray reproduces it splendidly. Fine detail is completely abundant in the better lit, close-up shots, with Wright’s weathered (and utterly de-glammed) face a prime example. Because so much of the film is shot in dimly lit rooms, there is fairly evident crush in a number of scenes, and shadow detail can be quite murky at times. But overall this is a really gorgeous looking film if you simply settle into the look the filmmakers were going for and not insist on something appearing shiny, sparkly and new.
The Conspirator‘s lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix gets off to a literal bang with a brief Civil War prelude, and then with some great LFE-laden fireworks that celebrate the supposed end of the War. Surround activity is nicely consistent throughout this film, and what astute listeners will probably most respond to is how artfully the smaller rooms of the mid-19th century are recreated in the mix, with nicely discrete but gently crowded effects populating the soundfield. Dialogue is very clean and crisply presented, and occasionally in some of the larger group scenes scattered through the surrounds in a very lifelike way. Several scenes include nice pans with the pounding of horses’ hooves and the like. Mark Isham’s score is unobtrusively effective in several key segments. Fidelity throughout this track is top notch and dynamic range is exceptional.
- Commentary by Director Robert Redford can be played as an audio commentary as via Bonus View and PIP. Redford is rather low key throughout this commentary, with quite a few pauses, but he does give some interesting information on how the project came into being, its long gestation period, and some of the historical aspects that needed to be tweaked for the film.
- The Conspirator: The Plot to Kill Lincoln (1080i; 1:06:03) is a great companion piece to the film, offering more background and information on all of the major players. One odd thing is some recreations of John Wilkes Booth’s story, with a different actor than the film, even though the featurette offers copious clips from the film itself.
- The American Film Company (HD; 00:51). Annoying, annoying, annoying. This is fine to watch once, but making it “required viewing” (see the main body of the review above for details) is counterproductive and a really stupid marketing idea. Strangely, this “supplement” is one second longer than the unavoidable promo that runs before the Blu-ray’s main menu loads, and includes a brief fireworks display.
- The Making of The Conspirator (1080i; 10:04) is a typical EPK-fest featuring interviews with the cast and crew.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD; 2:26)
- TV Spots (HD; 00:48)
- Photo Gallery
A submenu provides several “Witness History” featurettes, including:
- Witness History: Introduction (1080i; 2:49) a brief overview of (you guessed it) The American Film Company and The Conspirator‘s premise.
- The Conspiracy (1080i; 4:37) offers a brief background on the conspiracy, including comments by historian Thomas R. Turner.
- Production Design (1080i; 3:58) looks at the film’s fantastic physical production, focusing on designer Kalina Ivanov.
- Mary Surratt’s Catholicism (1080i; 2:17) explores Surratt’s religious proclivities. Interestingly, the film actually makes less of this element than seems to be the actual case, though there is a sidebar about the Catholic Church helping to hide her son John.
- Costume Design (1080i; 5:19) profiles The Conspirator‘s costume designers Richard Schoen and Louise Frogley, as well as the vast research that was required to recreate authentic costumes.
- Military Trial (1080i; 3:55) is an interesting exploration of something that’s in headlines in current times, military tribunals.
- Props and Special Effects (1080i; 4:05) takes a look at the work of Prop Master John Bankston.
- Frederick Aiken – Defense Lawyer (1080i; 4:33) is a worthwhile piece on the real life attorney who defended Surratt.
- Mary Surratt: Guilty or Innocent (1080i; 5:03) is in some ways the best of these mini-featurettes, giving a brief but interesting account of both sides of this issue.
- Sentence and Execution (1080i; 4:32) discusses the cartwheeling series of events that unfolded after Mary was pronounced guilty by the military commission.